Today I learned a lesson. A difficult one at that. (If you don't want to read any ugliness about me, just skip today's writing.)
It started this morning when I was reading a post from an adult adoptee. Chad Goller-Sojourner shared a story from his childhood that illustrated the fact that his adoptive mother was willing to fight for him, no matter the cost, especially in matters where race was involved. In his introduction to the anecdote, he wrote, "When I listen to transracial adoptees discuss their upbringing, I often notice that many of us were placed with parents who herald from the Kumbaya Camp. I suspect this has something to do with the fact that most of the white folks adopting transracially are some combination of liberal, highly educated, and/or Christian, not exactly 'fighting' folks. Problem is black children need fighting folks."
I chewed on those words for part of the morning. I loved the story of Chad's mother marching into his school to battle because she always believed him. When he called, she came; he knew she would be in his corner. I pictured myself as Chad's mom. I imagined the things I would say if my son was in trouble at school because he responded to a racist act.
And then this afternoon we had a play date at a friend's neighborhood pool. Let me be clear in saying that nothing racist happened. However, two separate instances occurred that opened my eyes to my own failures as a mother.
First, the boys were playing in the pool with a group of boys that was organizing a swimming relay. I loudly heard one of my boys proclaim, "I don't want to be on his team. And I don't want to be on his team. I want to be by myself."
I sighed deeply to my friend sitting next to me. "Why does he always have to be this way? I want to be by myself. That's the story of his life. It's exhausting to parent this."
She gentle reminded me, "Maybe he has a reason for avoiding their teams. Maybe they're jerks to him."
"Yes, I suppose you could be right," I admitted.
Then later my same boy was shooting a water rocket at a group getting ready to leave the pool. All of the kids had already been in the pool, and the mothers had been sitting on the edge. One of the mothers asked him to please quit getting them wet. He ignored.
"Hey!" I yelled to him. "She asked you to quit spraying. You need to stop."
And he stopped.
Again I complained to the mother next to me about the unnecessary complaining he did when I asked him to stop. And again she reminded me, "Well, they are in a pool. You can't be too surprised when you get wet."
The rest of the afternoon went by without incident, and now the boys are exhausted and vegging in the basement after hours playing well with friends. And here I am reflecting on Chad's story and our afternoon at the pool. With a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, I'm realizing that I am not good at being an advocate, a fighter for my children.
Some of this comes from being first-time parents who feel like we're constantly under a microscope. I want the boys to be well-behaved and polite and liked. I often feel like others are watching me, watching them, waiting for a mistake, a moment to pass judgment. In my heart I know this is a lie, but it's part of the lens I feel I'm under when I parent.
So I spend too much time searching for their flaws and correcting them and waiting for the next mistake. I complain too loudly and too frequently and too honestly to others about their shortcomings. At night as we share a glass of wine I'm quick to share their daily faults with Chris rather than the bright moments. And there are plenty of bright moments. I'm not trying to be too hard on myself. I know I'm a good mom, a great mom most days. I'm just recognizing that this is a weakness I need to work on.
So I'm going to work on it.
I'm going to try to be less critical of my children, especially with those outside of our family.
I'm going to try to do more encouraging and less correcting.
I'm going to try to look for their strengths rather than their weaknesses. (They make me laugh, they give great hugs, they are great car dancers, etc.)
I'm going to work hard at being an advocate, an ally, a fighter for my boys. I know there will be days in their future when more of the world will turn against them. I know a time will come when the color of their skin will be the reason for a battle. And I want them to learn now that I will always be in their corner.